Rest is a key element to health because we need to be in a restful state for our cells to recover from the damage life causes. If you are struggling with your health or the ability to connect with how your body feels, start with paying attention to the amount of rest you get and how it makes you feel. Our body is designed to shift back and forth from stress to relaxation response. The stress response is part of life and actually does have some redeeming qualities, however that is for a discussion another time. However, long term stress can cause increased inflammation and intensify the wear and tear that our bodies experience from day to day.
When our body shifts from stress response to relaxation response it can focus on restoration, healing and growth. The amount of quality rest that we get affects all aspects of our life. How can we make good food choices when we are exhausted? Our body is hard wired to reach for quick sources of energy when we start to drag. Those quick and easy sources of energy often are the simple sugars, and in today’s world that usually means processed food that contains very little essential nutrients. How do we have energy to exercise if we are not getting enough sleep? How do we show kindness and patience to those around us when our body is in survival mode?
The only answer I have based on my own experience is, the body just does not function well when we do not get the appropriate amount of quality rest. How do we make sure we give our bodies the rest it needs?
Dr. Andrew J. Gross teaches people about sleep by referring to a sleep study that woke participants up at their deepest level of sleep by ringing a bell. After three days of this pattern the participants reported increased pain and discomfort all over their bodies. Three participants, however, did not wake up when the bell went off. These three participants all happened to be long distance runners. The study concluded that exercise helps people get into a deeper level of sleep and stay there despite noise around them.
Sleep hygiene is establishing a good bed time routine that helps prepare your body for sleep. Going through the same routine at the same time of day each night helps prepare the mind and body for sleep. If you struggle getting to sleep consider trying deep breathing exercises and/or meditations to quiet the mind. If after 30 minutes you can’t get to sleep, get up and try getting a drink or something to eat. Sometimes stretching tight muscles can help the body relax enough to get to sleep. Then try going back to sleep again.
Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep is very frustrating! Some people really get their body confused by sleeping during the day or not getting outside to get enough sun light. This can spin the body into unpredictable sleep patterns. Asking your doctor for a sleeping pill should not be the first thing you try. Sleeping pills are addictive and have unwanted side effects for many people, plus their effectiveness can change over time. Before you go for the easy temporary fix, consider trying some other things first.
Try setting a sleep wake schedule and sticking to it. Even though you may be so exhausted during the day, stay awake! Keep telling yourself that this tired feeling is a good thing for now because it is going to help re-set your body to a good sleep schedule. If you still have trouble getting to sleep, try setting your alarm to wake up early and go to bed at your desired time at night. The goal is to get your body so tired that when you finally do lay down to sleep you fall asleep and stay asleep. If you are trying to set a sleep cycle avoid daytime naps.
Look at your diet. Are you eating a variety of essential nutrients? “Essential” means we need to get those nutrients from our diet because our body does not produce it. A healthy diet full of a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables and other natural foods can help make sure we have the nutrients our body needs to produce a balance of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters help our body systems communicate with each other. If we have a surplus of excitatory neurotransmitters and a deficit of inhibitory transmitters then we can get anxious and stressed, but lack the ability to calm down. There are a lot of factors that influence how our bodies work, but why not help our body out where we can and give it tools to function well by choosing a diet full of essential nutrients?
Still can’t sleep? What do you think you need? Do you feel safe? Do feel connected spiritually and socially? Is your life in balance? If you were to give yourself a diagnosis what would it be? You know yourself better than anyone else. Why do you think you are not sleeping well? Then problem solve. Make a list of possible solutions? On this list write down ANYTHING that pops in your head that might be a solution. After writing down the list narrow it down. Somethings won’t be practical, somethings won’t really have the desired results, and somethings will have negative consequences that you want to avoid. After you narrow it down, consider carefully what you want to work on first. Pray about your solution and ask for divine guidance.
Consider your struggle with sleep as a warning signal. Something in your life needs to change. What is it? Paying attention to this warning signal now and taking time to problem solve and make changes in your life will serve as a long term solution to help you live healthier!
Goal: Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
Questions to ponder: Does God really care if I get enough sleep? Do I underestimate the value of rest and the effect it has on my life? Am I taking responsibility for the amount and quality of my rest?